Sarabjit Singh’s sister pleads for his life again

April 21st, 2008 - 7:32 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pervez Musharraf
By Muhammad Najeeb
Islamabad, April 21 (IANS) Two mercy petitions were filed for Sarabjit Singh, an Indian prisoner on death row in a Pakistan jail, including one by his sister Dalbir Kaur, a senior government official said Monday. The petitions filed with President Pervez Musharraf were by Dalbir and Pakistani human rights activist Ansar Burney, the interior ministry official said. Both petitions have been received by the presidency.

The official said this was at least the third letter by his sister to the president, while Burney has also sent his appeal to the president Monday.

However, sources say chances of accepting the mercy petition are poor.

Last month, the Indian government filed a clemency appeal for Singh, who may be executed for his involvement in terrorist activities.

The official said that the Indian government approached Pakistan last month with an appeal to grant clemency to the Indian national on humanitarian grounds.

Singh was sentenced to death for his involvement in four bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan that killed 14 people. Sarabjit has already spent 18 years of his life in a death cell.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan rejected Sarabjit’s mercy petition in March 2006 and upheld his death sentence. The president who is the final authority has not given any decision on the petition.

Things became particularly difficult in the Sarabjit case after the death of Pakistani prisoner Khalid Mehmood in an Indian jail last month, allegedly because of torture by Indian authorities.

Mehmood’s body was repatriated to Pakistan days after an Indian spy, Kashmir Singh, had been pardoned and repatriated to India.

In his petition sent to the president, Ansar Burney made several arguments in Singh’s favour saying that he could not legally be hanged.

According to the petition sent by Burney, President Musharraf was informed that a key witness, Shaukat Salim,in a TV interview some years after he testified against Sarabjit had said he had been forced to do so by the police even though he had never seen Sarabjit in his life, let alone see him commit the acts of terrorism.

Other witnesses in the trial also had made inconsistent statements, Burney said.

Making his case, Burney said that none of the four FIRs lodged in regard to the bombings contained Sarabjit’s name or his description. When he was arrested on the night of Aug 30, 1990, at Kasur Border, he had actually been apprehended for illegally crossing the India-Pakistani border. After eight days, the police implicated him in the terrorist bombings. He had not been arrested red handed, he maintained.

Burney also pointed out that one magistrate had recorded the statements of the witnesses in all the four cases - one in Faislabad and three in Lahore - even though the cases were lodged in four different police stations and two different districts. He said four different magistrates should have recorded the statements. Not one of the statements recorded in front of the magistrate was taken under oath.

Sarabjit had not been produced in an identity parade in front of a magistrate. Istead, he was brought in front of witnesses, without a magistrate present, and the police informed the witnesses that he was the culprit - just as Shaukat Salim, a key witness in the case had said.

Three of the four review petitions with regard to Sarabjit Singh were still pending before the Supreme Court; and so he could not be hanged until he had the chance to defend himself on those three cases as well, Burney said.

Sarabjit’s apparent admission of guilt, which was recorded by Pakistani authorities and shown on TV, was dismissed on the grounds that confession while in confinement held no evidentiary value in the eyes of the law, as it was obvious that no sane person would make such a confession unless he was pressurised or forced to do so.

There was no sufficient or proper evidence to justify the death sentence to Sarabjit, especially after retraction of statements by witnesses, and as such, the death sentence awarded to him was against the settled principles of law. And it was hard to believe that the Supreme Court itself did not dismiss Sarabjit’s death sentence after all these facts were produced before it, he said.

In such circumstances, Burney stated, there is a settled principle of law that the benefit of doubt should always been given to the accused, even at bail stage. But contrary to it, Sarabjit was still sentenced to death despite the many doubts, irregularities and illegalities in his trial.

Burney said: “With so many facts in favour of Sarabjit and so little to justify the death sentence awarded to him, it seemed Sarabjit’s biggest crime may have been his Indian nationality - as no unbiased court would ever sentence a man to death in such a weak case.”

Therefore, in the greater interest of justice and human rights, Ansar Burney requested that the whole case should be reviewed and his hanging halted.

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